This past August, the U.S. did something that has been in the wings for years - leave Afghanistan. After 3 presidencies overseeing the U.S. intervention in Afghanistan, the military evacuated the country as the Taliban closed in on the capital, Kabul. The evacuation resulted in hundreds of deaths as U.S. and Afghan citizens alike desperately sought to flee the country. The situation made headline news for weeks on end. The situation continues as poverty and strife begin to rock the nation, but we also ask what’s next?
In February of 2020, the Trump administration concluded negotiations with the Taliban. These negotiations left the U.S.-backed Afghan government out of the loop. Facilitating the withdrawal of all U.S. military forces from Afghanistan by May 1st, 2021, the negotiated agreement was kept, as the United States began reducing their military presence in the region from 13,000 active military troops to only a skeleton force of 2,500. All the while, Taliban forces continued their attacks on the Afghan government, allowing al-Qaeda forces into their ranks. Later, when President Biden inherited this agreement from the Trump administration, he pushed the date back to August 31st, 2021. This was done with evidence that the Taliban had no intention of keeping true to the conditions of their agreement with the United States because the Taliban had the stated goal of creating an “Islamic government” following the U.S. withdrawal. Despite many military experts' warnings, President Biden reassured the American public that a Taliban takeover was “not inevitable”, ignoring U.S. intelligence which stated the contrary.
Going back 20 years, the United States invaded the Taliban-controlled country following al-Qaeda’s attack on the United States in September of 2001. This was mainly due to the fact that the Taliban was sheltering and harboring the very terrorists who planned the attacks of September 11th, 2001. The war in Afghanistan took “the lives of nearly 2,500 U.S. servicemen and servicewomen, cost a trillion dollars, and occupied the attention of four presidential administrations”, as the Afghanistan Study Group put it in a February report.
As U.S. forces withdrew from province after province, the Taliban and other insurgent forces seized control of vacant territories, and almost immediately, rumors of inhumane treatment arose. Former American allies, such as interpreters and guides, were slaughtered, and anyone who was remotely connected to the United States’ former involvement in the area was targeted. The Sunni extremists of the Islamic State (IS), with links to the group’s more well-known affiliate in Syria and Iraq, carried out a series of brutal attacks. These mainly targeted Afghanistan’s Shiite Muslim minority. Then, on August 15th, Taliban forces entered the capital of Kabul, forcing U.S. diplomats to make a harrowing escape from the embassy there via helicopter. Many later compared a photo of this event to a similar one taken from the Fall of Saigon in 1975.
US diplomats escape the US Embassy in Kabul via helicopter. Many compared the photo to a similar one taken from the Fall of Saigon in 1975.
Then, on Thursday, August 26th, 2021, two suicide bombers and gunmen attacked crowds around Kabul International Airport, killing a known ninety Afghans, as well as thirteen U.S. soldiers. IS claimed responsibility for the attack on its news channel, Amaq. IS is far more radical than the Taliban government who recently seized control of the country. The Taliban is not believed to have been involved with this attack. Later, President Biden addressed the nation from the White House, promising the American people that the bloodshed would not motivate the U.S. to remain any longer than scheduled. However, he also stated that the U.S. military would respond to this attack, saying “We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay.” Eighteen service members were injured, as well as more than one hundred-forty Afghans. Even with the bombings, from three a.m. to three p.m., EST, about 7,500 people were evacuated, a White House official said. Fourteen U.S. military flights carried about 5,100 people, and thirty coalition flights carried 2,400 people. The total compared to 19,000 in one twenty-four-hour period toward the start of the week. Coming to be known as the Kabul airlift. It would later be called by President Biden “an extraordinary success.”
Despite these rumors of inhumane treatment and blatant ignoral by the Taliban of their agreements with the United States, the U.S. continued their evacuation. Furthermore, the U.S. did little to inform their allies as to their moves, abandoning their largest airbase in the middle of the night. One study found that the United States’ relationship with the United Kingdom, their greatest ally, is currently the worst it’s been since the 1956 Suez Canal Crisis. This is where the United States backed and supported the Egyptian forces, attempting to retake the Suez Canal from British imperial grasp.
In the last few months, we have been witnesses to history, as the United States ended its longest engaged war, and withdrew from a territory only slightly smaller than the state of Texas. Whatever one’s opinion on the handling of the evacuation and the U.S.’s operations in Afghanistan in the first place, one question still remains: what will happen to the new generation of Afghans?
Over the last twenty years, according to the Department of Defense, the U.S. has spent approximately $955 billion in Afghanistan. A large portion of this is a military expenditure, while other portions are being allocated towards reconstruction. Another estimate from Brown University, which included interest on debts accrued from the war as well as other expenses both home and abroad, came in at around $2 trillion. Through all this time and money spent in Afghanistan, the U.S has gone about supporting the nation's military, the nation's reconstruction, and providing it a base to raise a new government. These last twenty years have seen a new generation of Afghans grow up in a very different country than those before them. Now we look to the new generation of Afghans now growing up in an Afghanistan with yet another new look. Some families may have fled over the last twenty years, in the last couple of months, or are hoping to now. This brings a new generation of Afghan immigrants and perspectives to countries around the world, including the U.S. and even Maine. Over the next year, sixty to one hundred Afghan refugees will arrive in Maine, being resettled in an effort being spearheaded by Catholic Charities of Maine. These refugees come to our country, and state, with hope and promise for a better future than one in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.
Theodore Burkhardt and Danny McCartney
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